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Carnatic Music in Malayalam cinema

I grew up in the city of Coimbatore, not too far from the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border.  I had and continue to have a lot of Malayalee and Tamilalee friends. I never quite picked up the language but given the context, could make heads or tails in the conversation.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Malayalam cinema was going through its golden period. Every other movie made its way to the National Awards and Mohanlal, Mamooty and a slew of actors held center stage. While I didnt really watch very many Malayalam movies, one thing that I took to was their soundtrack. It would not be a stretch to say that in the last three decades, there has not been a better showcase of Carnatic music than in Malayalam movies.

How did this happen? One could start with the voices – Yesudas who stormed into the scene around the same time. There were others like Neyyatinkara Vasudevan, Jayachandran and S.Janaki who also made waves. Yesudas subsequently brought in M.G.Sreekumar and Kavikuyil Chitra. Malayalam music directors of the time had a keen ear for Carnatic music- G.DevarajanM. Raveendran, M.G. Radhakrishnan, Johnson, and Illayaraja.  The musical nature of some of the movies at the time – Bharatam, Chitram, His Highness Abdullah, Sargam, Sopanam, Manichitrathazhu, Swathi Thirunal and many more was either the cause or the result of this magic. In this post, I will present a really small set of those spectacular movie soundtracks that continue to hold sway over me.

1. Swathi Thirunal

swathithirunal

This is what I would call a full Carnatic soundtrack. A movie that was critically panned for its theme, it nevertheless featured an all star vocal cast including Neyyattinkara Vasudevan, Chitra, Yesudas, S.P.B, Balamurali Krishna and more. This M.B.Sreenivasan album is one of my all time favorites and it a huge challenge to pick a single favorite. Be it the Charukesi piece by Yesudas, or Kanada by Neyyatinkara or the Vasantha piece by Yesudas and Neyyatinkara or the Misra Pilu piece sung gorgeously by Balamurali or the Dhanasri thillana by M.G.Sreekumar, each one is a gem.  But for the sake of this post, I would like to put forth this short yet impactful Darbari Kanada piece by SPB – Devanuke Pathi.

2. Sargam

sargam

I never got to see this movie but I heard it was good. What I did hear (many times over) was its soundtrack.  Featuring music by Bombay Ravi, this movie was built around music as its central theme and it shows. K.J.Yesudas and Chitra pretty much owned and dominated the album with such pieces like Raaga Sudha rasa (Aandholika), Pravahame.  My personal favorite is the wonderful Kedaragowla piece, Aandholanam.

3. Bharatham

Bharatham

Yet another Raveendran-Mohanlal combo that did wonders. The movie with its dark theme was a popular hit and went on to win National Awards. A movie that showcased the price of fame in Carnatic music and what it does to relationships, it featured some awesome music by Raveendran.  The selection here includes Rama Katha Ganalayam (pivotal moment in the movie driven by KJY’s excellent rendition), the great Shankarabharanam piece, Raghuvamsapathe and the Nattai piece Gopangane. My personal pick here is the Hamsadwani piece by K.J.Y, Sree Vinayakam.

4. Chithram

chitram

This is one movie I did get to see. A serious start segues into a humorous middle only to climax on a not so happy note. All that aside, the movie’s breezy middle portion has some hidden gems. This was a huge hit back then and the Kannur Rajan scored music was a big contributor. Two nice pieces here are the romantic piece that is still rooted in Madhyamavathi, Eeran Megham and the M.G.Sreekumar rendered Dikshithar krithi in Nattai, Swami Nadha. But the standout here is the fantastic rendition of Thyagaraja’s Abheri gem, Nagumo by Neyyattinkara Vasudevan and M.G.Sreekumar.

5.  His Highness Abdullah

hha

One can argue that this maybe the benchmark against which all Carnatic themed Malayalam film music could be measured. And as a movie, it standouts as a remarkable classical music based enterprise from Pranavam Arts. A Raveendran soundtrack rich in classical tones for a movie rooted in the same art form, it was a joy to watch and to listen. With good pieces in the form of Pramadhanam Vendum, and the Kanada piece, Nadharoopini gloriously rendered by M.G.S and much more, there was a lot to enjoy. The standout song though was Deva Sabhathalam featuring Yesudas / M.G.Sreekumar in two versions, Raveendran master and Sharath. Even today, I get goosebumps listening to this piece.

As I made my way through this list, I realized it would not really fit in one post. So I will defer the rest of the selection to a second post for a future date. And no better way to conclude this post than with the final lines from the song, “Anandam Ananthanandham Jagadanandam Sangeetham”

As always, a full Youtube playlist with pretty much all the songs featured in this post are available here. Enjoy.